7 Reasons Why It’s Worth It To Stay Carb-Conscious – menshealth.com

friends resting after exercise

Extreme MediaGetty Images

It can feel like the big fitness and nutrition trends of the day take things to the extreme—keto-obsessed, burn-your-fat, no-carb-everything. But what if you feel like you fall in the middle? You do your best to hit the weights, get your cardio in, commit to leg day, and eat right, but going all-in on keto seems overwhelming—or maybe you just can’t quit that occasional bagel or pancake breakfast. You’re only human. And the truth is, human bodies operate at their best when fueled by a diverse balance of vitamins, minerals, and micro- and macronutrients, which can be found in abundance in wholesome, high-quality foods including meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Sure, carbs have their purpose when it comes to keeping you fueled. But there are many great reasons to keep the carbs (and added sugars that often accompany them) in check and eat a diet rich in protein and other wholesome ingredients, too. In other words, there are plenty of good reasons to fall somewhere in the middle. Here are seven perks of a carb-conscious regimen.

Potentially longer life

The leading risk factor for death and disability across the globe is malnutrition in all its forms—including undernutrition, carrying excess levels of body fat, and dietary risks. According to Ryan Andrews, R.D., C.S.C.S., and principal nutritionist and advisor at Precision Nutrition, those dietary risks include not eating enough fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds—as well as eating too many non-nutrient-dense food sources of things like added sugar, saturated fat, or salt. A diet high in these foods may be particularly problematic as it could increase your risk of dying of heart disease even if you aren’t overweight. Choosing your carbs carefully is key to avoiding those unnecessary excess nutrients, and an essential factor in long-term health, Andrews says.

More room for all key nutrients

Overdoing it on a particular macro such as carbs can prevent you from meeting other micro and macro-nutrient needs, explains Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., and a spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For example, not consuming enough protein can slow your body’s recovery from a workout or strenuous activity. Eating fewer carbs leaves more room for the nutrient-dense foods that will meet your body’s daily needs—and help you feel your best.

Better blood sugar control

A roller coaster of blood sugar and insulin (a hormone that allows your cells to take in blood sugar for energy) can lead to inflammation, which can contribute to chronic disease, explains Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., a Colorado-based dietitian. Controlling your carb intake can naturally help regulate your body’s blood sugar levels, she explains. Studies suggest that people who eat fewer carbs may help lower their risk of type 2 diabetes even if they don’t lose weight.

Optimal brain function

“The types of carbohydrate-rich foods that are included in the diet play a critical role in overall brain health, mood, and cognitive function,” says Andrews. While a lot of factors play a role in optimal brain function, one key nutritional factor seems to be nutrient-dense foods: vegetables, fruits, legumes, seafood, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, he says.

Micronutrients in those foods called polyphenols actually work to improve your brain’s plasticity—essentially, how well-equipped your brain is to change when presented with new info. (Feel free to dive in here to further nerd out on nutrition science.)

Faster metabolism

According to a 2018 study from Harvard Medical School, people who took on a more carb-conscious outlook significantly upped their daily calorie burn; they burned 209 more calories a day than those on on carb-heavy diets. Researchers hypothesized that cutting carbs likely increased people’s metabolism and promoted weight loss.

“Not meeting your other nutrient needs could lead to slower metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fats,” Valdez says. “If you’re overdoing it on carbs, you’re also likely overdoing it on calories, which can lead to weight gain.”

Increased satiety

The same Harvard Medical School study found that levels of the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin were significantly lower in the carb-conscious people than the carb-heavy eaters. By keeping levels of these hormones in check, you’ll likely eat less come mealtime. Plus, having more room to fill up on protein and other nutrients, says Valdez, can help naturally decrease your overall caloric intake simply by increasing satiety (a natural benefit associated with protein). To stay full, says Valdez, make sure half of each meal is comprised of non-starchy vegetables: “Vegetables contain fiber, which makes you feel full on fewer calories.”

More efficient fat burning

Your body is picky when it comes to fuel, and it prefers carbs in the form of stored glycogen over all other sources, explains Kirkpatrick. When glycogen stores are low, your body will turn to fat as a source of fuel, she says—something that can contribute to weight loss but also performance gains. One 2017 study in the Journal of Human Kinetics found that when endurance athletes stuck with a carb-conscious diet, their muscles seemed to store energy and burn fat more efficiently than those chowing carbs. It’s a change that could help you avoid endurance “bonks” or performance drops when you’re on your last leg.

Freelance Writer Cassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance writer and editor with almost a decade of experience reporting on all things health, fitness, and travel.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io